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Again Gunyou gets to the heart of the issue.

John Gunyou: Pawlenty pledge simply isn't a core Minnesota value

March 1, 2005

Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently characterized his no-tax pledge as a core Minnesota value. That's troubling.

The Minnesotans I know value other ideals. We come from diverse walks of life, and even from different political parties, but we share core values born of a common heritage. The no-tax pledge is not among those values.

Nobody likes taxes, but most folks understand they're the price we have to pay for public investments that enable our state to prosper. They're how we support the real core values that have served Minnesota so well for more than a century. Here are the five values on my list:

A quality education is the constitutional right of every Minnesotan. We believe that every child in our state should enter school prepared, be challenged to succeed, and have the opportunity to go to college.

Generations of leaders have understood that education is Minnesota's one true competitive advantage. Yet, that key to our individual and collective futures is being starved a little more every year. We're like the farmer who decided to save money by feeding his horse less and less each day. The plan was working, but just as he taught the horse not to eat anything at all, the darned thing died.

After several years of stagnant funding, Pawlenty's latest budget funds our school needs at less than 50 cents on the dollar. As a result, next year's school property taxes are projected to soar a staggering 23 percent.

The governor's budget also fails to restore his previous cuts to school readiness programs, and only increases college support enough to cover recent enrollment growth. As a result, tuition hikes will price even more Minnesotans out of the education they need to succeed.

Sustainable economic growth is a core value. Minnesota has long served as an economic engine for the Midwest, but our position is weakening.

For our economy to prosper, we have to be able to get there from here. One-third of our state's roads are already classified as "too far gone," because our gas tax has remained stagnant for 17 years. Rather than honestly provide recurring resources, Pawlenty's transportation plan relies on borrowing -- with no real way to pay off the debt. We must adequately fund the public infrastructure necessary to support economic growth and job creation.

Sustainable growth is also dependent on fair and stable taxes, but the governor is so irrationally committed to his no-tax pledge he won't even reform our volatile tax system on a revenue-neutral basis. We need courageous leadership to enact the necessary reform.

Minnesotans believe in selfless commitment to community. We understand it's about us, not just about me. If we see someone stuck in the snow, we stop to help; we don't just keep driving.

Helping people help themselves is a core Minnesota value. That's why we enacted historic bipartisan health care and welfare reforms more than a decade ago -- reforms that are now being systematically unraveled.

Pawlenty's last budget forced 10,000 kids off child care, and his latest budget eliminates 1,000 kids a month. His previous budget also lopped 20,000 children and 18,000 adults off health care. Now he's reneging on his promise to restore medical coverage for those kids, and also cutting another 41,000 workers, parents and others from what he cruelly labels "health care welfare."

Cutting the legs out from under our working class simply costs us all more in the long run. We must reverse the governor's shortsighted cuts, and restore the landmark reform we all worked so hard to enact.

Environmental stewardship is a core Minnesota value. We must carefully balance our economic and recreational needs with environmental preservation and public health to sustain our state's rich natural resources.

Minnesota has still not implemented programs required under the Federal Clean Water Act, which was enacted in the mid-'70s. An estimated 2,000 bodies of water in the Land of 10,000 Lakes are listed as impaired. When we catch a fish in a Minnesota lake, we should be able to eat it.

And finally, fiscal responsibility is a core Minnesota value. We believe in leaving our children a better Minnesota than we inherited from our parents.

We have a long tradition of honestly balancing budgets, spending smarter and investing in the future. The Pawlenty administration is hacking away at successful programs and mortgaging our future. Debt service climbs an astounding 32 percent in his latest budget.

The problem with debt is, you eventually have to pay it back -- there's no such thing as a free lunch. It's like borrowing from your own family. We can have the services now, but the payment comes out of our kids' inheritance. Instead of my daughter's VISA bill coming to me, I have mine delivered to her.

That's not what Minnesota is all about. The governor's no-tax pledge and intergenerational tax shifts are not core Minnesota values.

Education is a core value. Sustainable economic growth is a core value. Helping people help themselves is a core value. A healthy environment is a core value. Leaving our children a better Minnesota is a core value.

These are the real values that make Minnesota the special place I know and love.

John Gunyou is Minnetonka's city manager and was previously Minnesota's finance commissioner in the Carlson administration.